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A menu for celebrating Black joy

How one chef finds comfort in food during Black History Month.
/ Source: TODAY

Black History Month is my favorite time of the year — other than Thanksgiving! This month, I always try to dedicate more time and energy to creating spaces for me and my Black friends to celebrate together. And I find it's easier to foster relationships and have meaningful conversations that move us forward when we're enjoying a meal. Food has always been the way I rejoice in my history, find gratitude for my present and feel hopeful about my future.

So, in celebration of Black history, I've created a complete spread — from breakfast to dessert — that really brings the comfort. These recipes highlight ingredients from my earliest memories in my family kitchen, while also taking inspiration from cuisines I've grown to love outside my family kitchen.

I vividly remember the smell of cinnamon, vanilla and butter browning in the skillet in my childhood home on the occasional weekend. Woken up by the sound and smell of butter sizzling on a Saturday morning, I knew that I would soon be met with a piping hot plate of French toast and maple syrup. Throughout the years, I've never forgotten the warm feeling of that breakfast accompanied by the conversations around the table. Here, I've put my spin on my mother's French toast and created a praline sauce packed with hints of caramel, warm spices and crunch from the nuts.

Shrimp and grits wasn't something I was exposed to until I began to explore low-country and Cajun cooking during my college years. Now, whenever I'm hosting brunch at home, I always make my version of this Southern classic — much to my guests' delight.

Grits have always had a special place in my heart because they're so comforting and quickly take on new flavors. And I can always count on pimento cheese to add a robust, smoky and spicy flavor to anything I'm cooking.

Pro tip: Grits usually take about an hour to cook, so I like to allow them to simmer away while I complete the other meal components.

French Onion Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is the most popular dish at my dinner table, so I'm always looking for new ways to step it up. Don't get me wrong — I'm a big fan of the classic baked mac and cheese, but with the endless amounts of toppings and mix-ins available, I can't resist the temptation to switch it up. This recipe is perfect for making ahead for a party or a quick weeknight dinner. The best part about it is the combo of savory, umami and nutty flavors from the caramelized onions, Worcestershire sauce and Gruyere, Asiago and Parmesan cheeses. With bites of buttery, crunchy panko throughout, it's hard not to crave this unique take on a classic.

Peach cobbler was one of the first recipes I learned how to make, but I've never made it exactly the same way twice. There are countless ways to prepare it, and I think that's what makes it such a special dessert.

For this recipe, I took inspiration from my mother's spiced, saucy peach filling while incorporating a blend of chai spices in both the filling and crumble. The spices offer warmth to the mildly sweet peaches. If you're looking for a way to spice up your classic peach cobbler, you've found it.